2021 Chicago Cubs Affiliate Preview: Iowa Cubs Filled with MLB Depth, Few Top Prospects for Now

A lot has changed around the minors, but Iowa maintains a familiar look as manager Marty Pevey returns for his eighth season at the helm of the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate. As part of the minor league reorganization, Iowa has moved to a new league that sees them playing many more games in the Midwest rather than taking all those West Coast trips. That’s going to change how the game is played for many Cubs prospects.

No longer will they be playing in the mountains where ERAs get wrecked as hitter do serious damage in the lighter air. Playing at much lower elevations in and around the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys should favor pitchers, though the summer weather should still offer some fireworks.

This roster isn’t necessarily stacked with all the top talent in the system, though that’s normally the case with Triple-A. You’ll see a lot of players who can provide the Cubs with depth in Chicago should it be needed for one reason or another.

Probable Lineup
C – PJ Higgins
1B – Alfonso Rivas, Patrick Wisdom
2B – Abiatal Avellino, Idlemaro Vargas
SSAndrew Romine, Sergio Alcantara
3BTrent Giambrone
OFCameron Maybin, Rafael Ortega, Michael Hermosillo, Ian Miller
SP – Cory Abbott, Tyson Miller, Kohl Stewart, Ben Holmes, Keegan Thompson
RPJustin Steele, Michael Rucker, Wyatt Short, Trevor Megill, Dauris Valdez, Tommy Nance, and Brad Wieck

Note: These lineups are subject to change as previews were initially written before rosters were finalized and other personnel moves are still taking place

CI’s Top 20 Hitters

Most of Iowa’s position player roster has turned over except for second baseman Trent Giambrone. The Cubs went out and signed a lot of minor league free agents this past winter to provide depth for the major league roster. That was due in part to not selecting many hitters in the draft from 2016-19. The only top 20 Cubs Insider hitter on the roster is first baseman and outfielder Alfonso Rivas and it is questionable if he starts the year in Iowa.

The Cubs cobbled together a 2021 roster that includes very little major league experience but not a lot, but it’s still not going to be a prospect-driven team in the first half of the year. That could change greatly in the second half if some of the Cubs’ top hitting talent dominates at Tennessee.

CI’s Top 20 Pitchers

Just like 2019, the strength of this year’s squad is going to be pitching as the I-Cubs have five of Cubs Insider’s top 20 pitchers on the roster. The group of Cory Abbott, Tyson Miller, Keegan Thompson, Justin Steele, and Dakota Mekkes should spend time shuttling between Iowa and Chicago, and some of them already have.

One other pitcher I’m going to keep an eye on this spring is starter Kohl Stewart. The former first round pick of the Twins still has quality pitches, he just has trouble controlling them. If the Cubs can figure some things out with either his delivery or grips, getting him right could be like winning the lottery.

The Bullpen

One thing we’ve seen this winter is a turnover in talent at the Triple-A level. Several pitchers who’ve been around for a few years now are finding their time in the organization coming to an end, with James Norwood being the most recent. That opens more spots for others, including Trevor Megill, Dauris Valdez, and Brad Wieck.

Don’t sleep on Michael Rucker, who got a lot of work in with the Cubs in spring training and at the alternate site. Lefty Wyatt Short also has a chance to shine in Iowa.

Biggest Prediction

When the second half of the season comes, I would not be surprised to see a lot of turnover when it comes to position players.A lot of that will depend on the fortunes of the big league club, since a big selloff in July will mean shifting a lot of Iowa’s roster to Chicago. That would also mean seeing several top players from Double-A Tennessee moving up the ladder.

The Cubs have most of their elite position player prospects assigned to Double-A and several of them could earn their way to Triple-A by the middle of July no matter what happens in Chicago. Miguel Amaya, Brennen Davis, Chris Morel, and Chase Strumpf all have the potential to move up. Pitching prospects Brailyn Marquez and Burl Carraway, and maybe even Ethan Roberts, could move up in the late summer.

I doubt if any of them will be ready to start 2022 in Chicago, but they could all help at some point by early June next year. Amaya could be close this year depending on how his bat comes along, while Márquez will again force us to hurry up and wait to see how he does in Tennessee.

Other previews
Low-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans
High-A South Bend Cubs
Double-A Tennessee Smokies

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